For nearly 30 years, Hermiston seniors have gathered at the Umatilla County Fairgrounds to socialize, shop and enjoy a hot meal. That tradition could change if the Hermiston Senior Center changes locations next year, and the thought has earned mixed reactions from older residents.

Representatives from the senior center have followed the progression of recommendations to update the Umatilla County Fairgrounds, where the senior center is located. Current discussions involve plans to move the fairgrounds as part of the development of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center, including a new building for the center at the EOTEC site before the fairgrounds property is purchased.

Center volunteer Carleen Hottendorf said whether she supports moving depends on how the new building meets the facility’s needs.

“It all depends on what we’ll be able to do and not do. That’s my main concern,” Hottendorf said. “No matter what, I know it’s going to put a bind on some people.”

One volunteer and center attendee, Marilynn May, strongly believes the center should remain where it is, and started a petition supporting that belief.

“When we started hearing about this, I just thought we’d like to stay in town,” May said. “We’ve done a lot of work on this building, and it is convenient for those who walk and those who drive but don’t like to drive far.” May said the petition is not against the fairgrounds moving, but outlines potential issues senior citizens could have in following the fairgrounds to the new location.

“The petition is to let them know how we feel,” May said. “There are pros and cons to any option. We’re not opposed to moving, we’re just opposed to not having a say. There have been people who have said they will not go up there if the center is moved, but people can always change their minds.”

While the wording in the petition supports remaining in the current building, Virginia Beebe, vice president of the Senior Center Board, said board members signed the petition in the hope of bringing awareness to the issue.

“Our main thing is that no matter where the senior center is, they need to work with us too. This affects us,” Beebe  said. “It’s not that they aren’t thinking of us, it’s that they aren’t asking us what we want, what we need.”

When the Hermiston Senior Center first came into existence, it operated out of what is now the ARC Building next to McKenzie Park. The center moved into its current location in 1981 when the city purchased an existing building and moved it to the site. The City of Hermiston owns the current building and pays for water and garbage services as well as building insurance. The Senior Center only pays for utilities, and the building sits on land leased from Umatilla County.

If the center remains in the current building, however, problems with the wiring will soon require attention.

“Even if they were to give us this building, we’d still have to get grants to fix the wiring because this building so old,” Beebe said. “And even though we have a wonderful kitchen, it’s getting old, too. The dishwasher was used before we got it; the freezer was used before we got it.”

If a new center is built, however, the board would have to address operating costs and finding liability service if the space were to be rented.

“If we have to move, we should be looking for grants to try to find a new building,” Beebe said. “Ideally, someone would buy us a new building with everything we need and give us land. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

For the board, one concern is making sure the kitchen in a new facility can handle the daily workload, which includes a hot lunch for 50-100 people and other daily programs, as well as seasonal events such as community dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We have one of the largest kitchens in Hermiston, plus our freezer,” board secretary/treasurer Doris Martin said. “We don’t just do our meals. We have state-funded programs, Meals on Wheels, so we need to have a big kitchen.”

Overall, Beebe said the board’s position is based more on open discussion than on a specific location.

”I don’t think it matters where the senior center is located,” she said. “I think it matters that we have a senior center and that we’re able to provide the services we need to. We don’t need to stay in the same building, but we need to know what’s going on.”


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